Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, December 6, 2013

Week ending December 6, 2013

starred review starAbrams, J.J. & Doug Dorst. S. Mulholland: Little, Brown. 2013. 470p. ISBN 9780316201643. $35. F
When undergrad Jen discovers a heavily notated copy of V.M. Straka’s classic novel Ship of Theseus, she is plunged into a surprising, book-based version of online dating. Through the handwritten notes she learns of Eric, a graduate student obsessed with both the novel and its enigmatic author. She responds with written comments of her own, thus beginning a correspondence that leads to romance, intrigue, and, ultimately, peril. Conceived by mystery maestro Abrams (Lost; Star Trek: Into Darkness) and penned by Dorst (Alive in Necropolis; The Surf Guru), the layered storytelling is riveting, but it is the book as object that is most compelling. It’s a remarkably authentic library tome with stained pages, observations in longhand, and more than 20 pieces of ephemera tucked between its weathered leaves: postcards, photographs, and a map scribbled on a napkin among them.
Verdict This unwieldy format makes S. a nightmare for real librarians, who may choose to gather the ephemera into a file, include a guide specifying where each item belongs, and add a message indicating that the book includes 23 additional pieces. Some libraries may choose not to circulate it at all but, difficulties aside, S. remains a loving homage to the printed book, a defiant and challenging counteractant to today’s digital media. Both its ungainly setup and stratified storytelling require patience and commitment from its reader, however. Be ready for full immersion or you could become…LOST. [See Prepub Alert, 4/29/13.]—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY

starred review starDe Giovanni, Maurizio. Everyone in Their Place: The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi. Europa Editions. (Commissario Ricciardi, Bk. 3). 2013. 272p. tr. from Italian by Antony Shugaar. ISBN 9781609451431. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781609451578. MYS
This third installment (after Blood Curse) of de Giovanni’s police procedurals set in 1930s Naples finds Commissario Ricciardi and his partner, Brigadier Maione, investigating the violent death of the Duchess of Camparino, a beautiful young woman with many enemies. A bitter husband, a hateful stepson, a spurned lover, and jealous wives all have reason to want the duchess dead. Secrets between families, servants and the powerful fascist elite further complicate a crime committed possibly for love or for revenge. Cursed with visions of the dead, Ricciardi determinedly hunts down the murderer to deliver justice to the living and peace to the ghosts that haunt him.
Verdict In the popular field of historical noir featuring gloomy but brilliant detectives, de Giovanni’s series easily stands out as a success. His is a classic detective story built on clues, motive, and character, where political turmoil seasons the plot but doesn’t overwhelm it. An excellent choice for mystery fans and readers of international fiction.—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.

Delaney, K.A. This One Day: A Max Tyger Crime Novel. Five Star: Gale Cengage. (Max Tyger, Bk. 1). Dec. 2013. 308p. ISBN 9781432827243. $25.95. MYS
Mark Lewis, a young scion of a Connecticut town, has gone missing, and Margaret, his art teacher, desperately wants PI Max Tyger to find him. Oddly, Mark’s parents don’t believe their son is missing; as far as they are concerned, he is attending an exclusive art retreat in Texas. Guilt ridden over a previous case involving a missing teen, Max investigates, despite his slim knowledge of the true circumstances. Concurrently, Max is undergoing rigorous chemo and radiation treatments for a particularly virulent cancer, making his investigation even more physically arduous than normal. Odds are against Max, but he perseveres. When Margaret is killed, the PI finds inner strengths, and his naysayers are stunned by his determination.
Verdict Delaney’s grim tale shouts Greek tragedy more than standard mystery fare. A blisteringly hot, strong second half compensates for an overlong beginning. Those who have grappled with serious illness will appreciate Delaney’s devotion to the hero’s fight, even if the development of secondary characters languishes. Delaney is a pseudonym for John R. Corrigan, author of golf mysteries (Bad Lie). For fans of Reed Farrel Coleman.—Terry Jacobsen, Fairfield, CA

Devereaux-Nelson, Robin. In Violet’s Wake. Soft Skull. Dec. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781593765347. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781593765712. F
Devereaux-Nelson’s debut novel opens shortly after the titular Violet has walked out on her sixth husband, Marshall VanDahmm, giving him very little reason for her decision. Marshall, looking for anyone to blame, seeks out Costa, Violet’s second husband, but his anger soon subsides and the two men strike up a friendship based on their common past. One by one, Marshall and Costa seek out Violet’s other ex-husbands and form a support group to help themselves understand what they loved about Violet and why she abandoned them all. When they learn Violet plans to track down Jake, her old high school love and “the one who got away,” the men set off on a road trip to find Jake before Violet does.
Verdict Devereaux-Nelson’s novel is somewhat reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, but much lighter and with very little depth or originality in her characters. The author missed the mark in her attempt to spin an interesting idea into an emotional and uplifting story, as the characters and dialog are rather unsatisfactory. For a reader in search of an easy, somewhat entertaining read, they may enjoy this book, but they would likely be just as happy reading anything else.—Katie Wernz, Kent State Univ., OH

Forrest, Katherine V. High Desert. Spinsters Ink. (Kate Delafield). Dec. 2013. 246p. ISBN 9781935226659. pap. $16.95. MYS
It’s been almost a decade since readers have seen LAPD homicide detective Kate Delafield (Hancock Park, 2004) and the years are beginning to take a toll. Kate is newly retired and struggling with leaving the job, controlling her drinking, and the imminent loss of her friend Maggie to cancer. But concern for her old partner, Joe Cameron, breaks her isolation, when she learns that he may be missing. Asked by their former boss to quietly investigate, Kate finds herself learning more about her partner in a few days than in the years they served together. Forrest broke ground in the 1980s with the introduction of her lesbian police detective. While her contemporaries Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton also expanded gender roles in the detective genre, Forrest has allowed Kate to grow old into the 2010s and there is a melancholy, but not unhopeful, tone to her newest work.
Verdict A solid mystery underpins a meditation on the passing of friends and Kate’s struggle to make peace with time—and herself—before it is too late.—Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI

Gillies, Andrea. The White Lie. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Dec. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9780544061033. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780547526614. F
Peattie Hall, a crumbling manse in the Scottish Highlands, is home to the titled but declining Salter family. As the remaining generations take up sides to fend off both internal and external efforts to liquidate the land, the manse and the family silver, 19-year-old Michael vanishes. The disappearance of the scion of a dwindling clan causes both grief and turmoil. Did Michael drown in the loch? Was he murdered? Did he simply run away? Rumors abound, and the family struggles to keep long-suppressed secrets from the neighboring village and each other. As the family gathers to mourn Michael and to celebrate the grandmother’s 70th birthday, someone breaks the silence and family secrets begin to unravel, endangering relationships and the treasured Salter family name.
Verdict The author of the award-winning memoir Keeper makes her fiction debut with this haunting and compelling tale of an aristocratic family suffering the economic and emotional pressures of modern life. The interesting twist of the missing Michael’s narration adds to the novel’s impact as it explores the tense and clouded world of the once noble Salters.—Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA

Rawle, Graham. The Card. Atlantic Bks., dist. by Trafalgar Square. Dec. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780857891242. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780857897640. F
There are unreliable narrators, and then there’s Riley, an obsessive card collector who eats meals made up of alliterative foods and insists on telling strangers that he’s related to Barry Manilow. Riley’s life gets turned upside down when he starts finding trading cards on the ground that seem to spell out a coded message from MI5. Riley believes the message is that he needs to save Princess Diana from some unknown threat. From that point, the story becomes almost a Hitchcockian wrong-man thriller, but funnier. Mixed in with the humor is some surprising heart, as the reader learns more about the father who walked out on Riley’s family and why Riley is the way he is. Photos of the “clues” Riley finds and icons in the margins of the pages allow the reader to sort of “play along” and see the same connections he does.
Verdict While this is not a straight mystery, fans of mystery or thriller fiction may also enjoy the lighthearted touch it lends to those genres. Readers who enjoyed Rawle’s visually adventurous Woman’s World may want to give this new work a shot.—Peter Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA

starred review starRodale, Maya. The Wicked Wallflower. Avon. 2013. 355p. ISBN 9780062231147. pap. $5.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062231154. ROMANCE
Four seasons without an offer is not very encouraging for a graduate of Lady Penelope’s Finishing School for Young Ladies. Of course, Lady Emma Avery, dubbed the Buxom Bluestocking, always has Benedict Chase, her beau of three years despite no formal betrothal. Under the influence of too much sherry, Emma’s fellow wallflowers Olivia and Prudence create a notice for The London Weekly announcing Emma’s engagement to the scandalous and oh, so affecting Duke of Ashbrooke—and it winds up in print, leaving readers to wonder how one of London’s Least Likely could snare such a sensual paramour. Blake Auden, the ninth Duke of Ashbrooke, is curious as well, having never met the woman to whom he supposedly lost his heart. Still, a sham engagement will help to polish his reputation enough to enlist backers for his mathematical Difference Engine. He can also perhaps win his Aunt Agatha’s Fortune Games with Emma’s help. Emma would like to win, too, to pave the way for her marriage to Benedict.
Verdict The self-described plain Jane considers herself immune to the devastating Ashbrooke Effect. The hero never would have noticed this wallflower; now, he can’t stop thinking about her. The latest from Rodale (Seducing Mr. Knightly) is a funny, heartfelt, and lovingly crafted romance that readers will savor. Highly recommended.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Annalisa Pesek About Annalisa Pesek

Annalisa Pesek (apesek@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Book Review
[photograph by John Sarsgard]